Despite an economy that accelerated throughout the 21st century to become the sixth largest in the world, the Indian work culture is still predominantly hierarchical in structure and based on seniority, position and status. Building a trusting relationship is paramount, with Indians often preferring introductions from a third party they already know.

Business attitudes at the top level draw confidence from the economy’s strength. India had a nominal GDP in 2021 of 2,946 billion US dollars, 6th in the world, accounting for 3.10% of the global economy. A 9.50% growth rate in 2021 made it the world’s fastest-growing economy, and Goldman Sachs predicts that by 2035 only China and the US will have economies larger than India’s.

India’s population of over 1.4 billion includes a workforce of around 500 million, tens of millions of which are in the largely unregulated, ‘unorganized’ economy. However, a significant proportion is highly-motivated, well-educated English speakers, fueling the country’s economic growth. IT, telecommunications and software development are at the core of the change in the services sector, featuring international companies such as Intel, Meta, Google and Microsoft.

The Basics of the Indian Work Culture

India has some unique etiquette nuances that could trip up western companies and employees:

  • Language: English is the language of business
  • Punctuality: It will help not to arrange early morning meetings due to chronic traffic problems in the major cities – the same factor that may lead to your counterpart not being on time
  • Greetings: Handshakes are the norm for business meetings, addressing the most senior first using titles and surnames until invited to address each other by first names. The traditional ‘Namaste’ – placing the palms together accompanied by a slight bow – became a famous no-contact greeting during the pandemic.
  • Dress Code: Staying formal is safest with suits and ties for execs, with women ensuring skirts come below the knee, or wearing trouser suits and tops with high necklines
  • Negotiations: Indians are skilled negotiators and will expect targeted, focused presentations backed up by stats, charts and figures. Avoid displaying anger or frustration and put contentious issues on the shelf until later meetings.
  • Sealing the Deal: Be patient and flexible, as agreements can evolve even after they appear to have been concluded.
  • Business Cards: These are exchanged with the right hand or both together – and don’t be shy of displaying qualifications, as Indians value a good education. Present first to the most senior person
  • Gift Giving: Small token gifts are acceptable, maybe from the home country
  • Out of Hours: It is OK to conduct business over a meal, which is like being in a hotel or restaurant in the early stages of the relationship. Being invited to a home is a sign matters are progressing well.


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